Saturday, August 31, 2013

Origin vs. Remake (Are there only 7 different stories in existence?)

Something that has always interested me in my delirium of tv, movies, and comic books is reference after reference to classic themes and images. Most of what we see or read either derives from, or is an homage to, stories written centuries ago. From my youth, Bullwinkle Moose told the tales of Aesop, Ray Harryhausen brought 3-Dimensional life to the monsters of Mysterious Island, and Stan Lee told gothic, Shakespearean tales in four-color pulp. Pop culture (even before that term was coined) is saturated with imagery from the classics.
My favorite, and the easiest, examples of origin versus re-imagining is in the films of Akira Kurosawa.
He retold stories from Eastern mythology and folklore and his films have, in turn, been retold using Western themes and motifs. Kurosawa’s film, Seven Samurai (a disparate, colorful group of seemingly soulless warriors defending a peaceful collective rediscover their humanity) has been remade in nearly every time period from medieval (Ironclad) to futuristic (Battle Beyond the Stars). The film Yojimbo (a lone warrior saves innocents from rival despots vying for control of the local area) has been made with prohibition era gangsters (Last Man Standing) and in the old west (A Fistful of Dollars).
Of course, some were good: the old west version of Seven Samurai called The Magnificent Seven has been placed in a classic status of its own. Some have been bad: Yojimbo spawned a train wreck (“I can’t look away!”) fantasy version with David Carradine called The Warrior and the Sorceress.
The question is: how do these remakes and re-imaginings compare to their origins? Do they follow or reflect the spirit of their inspiration? Did they simply use a similar image to evoke a particular mood or theme? Or are they mere reference points, like tour pics from the author’s psyche? Comparing stories and their origins can create more appreciation for the subtleties involved in each individual story. One can see what the original author’s intent might have been as well as possible reasons it is being retold: new perspectives help some stories reach wider modern sensibilities, a similar theme could be used to tell a different moral, maybe a purely entertaining story could be used as a cautionary tale if restructured.
But the danger is in the intent of the retelling and the knowledge base of the new audience. What if the audience doesn't know where something came from or that it is not a wholly original idea? Will their understanding be one of blind faith? Or could someone appreciate a tale just as well and even learn more from it if they don’t know of its origins? At the very least, a reader should always question the author’s intentions. Don’t accept something just because someone says it in an entertaining way; that is how Opus ended up with a living room full of turnip twaddlers...
What are your favorite remakes/re-imaginings? Do they do justice to their source? Are they better? Why?

What are the worst you've seen?

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